We live in a sex-obsessed culture.
Turn on the television during prime viewing hours, and you’ll see advertisements, entertainment news shows, sitcoms, and hour-long dramas awash in sex. Unfortunately, very little of the sex takes place in the context of marriage, and almost none of it has real-world consequences. When was the last time you saw a realistic portrayal of sexually transmitted disease, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or the financial disadvantage of single-parent homes?
But sex, like every other human behavior, has consequences. Why don’t television and other popular media deal with those consequences realistically, instead of just portraying sex as a harmless free-for-all? I would suggest that it is because they—as well large chunks of our culture—are committed to an ideology of sexual liberation whereby any sexual choice is moral (and therefore above criticism), as long as it is freely and authentically chosen. Call this the subjective theory of sexual morality.
By contrast, Christianity operates according to what you might call an objective theory of sexual morality. On this theory, sexual choices are moral insofar as they conform to God’s design plan for sex, which was first articulated in the creation stories of Genesis 1.27–28 and 2.18–25, and then reaffirmed by Jesus in Mark 10.2–12 and Matthew 19.3–9. In that design plan, a man and a woman freely choose to unite themselves in marriage for life.
Marriage is about far more than sex, of course. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer’s wedding service, “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” But in God’s design plan, marriage is the moral context in which we experience true, lifelong sexual fulfillment, precisely because marriage includes far more than just sex.
Contrasted with the popular media portrayals of sex, the Christian view of marriage is radically countercultural, in at least two ways. Consider what light Ephesians 5.3–6 has to shed on this subject:
- Popular culture views sex as a free-for-all; Christians place moral limitations on sexual expression. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (verses 3–4).
- Popular culture refuses to evaluate freely and authentically chosen sexual behaviors; Christians point out the spiritual consequences of violating God’s design plan. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (verses 5–6).
“Let no one deceive you.” In our sex-obsessed culture, where just about anything and everything goes, those are five good words to keep in mind. In our sex lives, as well as in every aspect of our lives, God has a far better plan than what you see on TV.